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A Lack Of Temperance: A Hattie Davish Mystery

Anna Loan-Wilsey

ISBN 9780758276346
Publish Date 9/25/2012
Format Trade Paperback
Categories Kensington, Historical, Historical

From Anna Loan-Wilsey comes the first installment of a new historical mystery series featuring Hattie Davish, a traveling secretary who arrives in a small Ozark town only to discover her new employer has disappeared…

On the eve of the heated presidential election of 1892, Miss Hattie Davish arrives in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a scenic resort town where those without the scent of whiskey on their breath have the plight of temperance on their tongues. Summoned for her services as a private secretary, Hattie is looking forward to exploring the hills, indulging her penchant for botany—and getting to know the town’s handsome doctor. But it’s hard to get her job done with her employer nowhere to be found…

An army of unassuming women wielding hatchets have descended on the quiet Ozark village, destroying every saloon in their path—and leaving more than a few enemies in their wake. So when their beloved leader, Mother Trevelyan, is murdered, it’s easy to point fingers. Now that she’s working for a dead woman, Hattie turns to her trusty typewriter to get to the truth. And as she follows a trail of cryptic death threats, she’ll come face to face with a killer far more dangerous than the Demon Rum…

“A wonderful read from a welcome addition to the genre. This one shouldn’t be missed—it has it all!” —Emily Brightwell

Chapter One

It was chaos. Several whiskey barrels had been left smashed and blazing in the middle of the road. Stray dogs fought over a pile of refuse on the side of a building. Despite the late hour, I had to dodge crowds of spectators milling about on the sidewalks, all curious bystanders like me. Dozens of women with placards reading WE SERVE THE TYRANT ALCOHOL NO LONGER and ’TIS HERE WE PLEDGE ETERNAL HATE,TO ALL THAT CAN INTOXICATE marched in a loose configuration, shouting taunts. Several others actually brandished hammers and axes. Most wore sky blue sashes tied at their waist, and all were hatless. I plunged into the crowd of women. Could it be that some of the demonstrators had only a few hours ago waved and laughed at me from a tally-ho coach? They seemed frightening figures now as they began to sing in unison.

Who hath wounds without a cause?
He who breaks God’s holy laws;
He who scorns the Lord divine,
While he tarries at the wine.
Who hath redness at the eyes?
Who brings poverty and sighs?
Unto homes almost divine,
While he tarries at the wine?

Touch not, taste not, handle not:
Drink will make the dark, dark blot,
Like an adder it will sting,
And at last to ruin bring,
They who tarry at the drink.

I fought my way through the marchers and settled against a pillar on the porch of a dry goods store. Several men, reeking of whiskey, leaned against the shuttered store window, the gaslight flickering on their shadowed faces.A gang of children, with their feet dangling over the side, lined up along the porch with their backs to me, as if ready to watch a circus parade. All eyes were directed at a squat, unpainted, wooden one-story building across the street, the Cavern Saloon. A small solitary female figure, as if on cue, appeared in a window, waving a hatchet above her head from inside the saloon. The barroom’s sign, a yellow geyser of foaming ale, swung above the door in counterpoint to the woman’s waving arm. My first impression of the scene had been right; the world had gone topsy-turvy.

“Home wrecker!” she screamed as she brought the hatchet down.

The windowpane exploded outward, raining glass in all directions. Instinctively I threw up my hands. The dogs scattered in opposite directions, one with two links of sausage dangling from its mouth. A bystander dropped into the dirt screaming, covering her face. A man in a top hat raced over to her aid.

What am I doing here? I wondered why I had ever left the comfort and luxury of my room. I never should’ve come down here when I heard that shout of “fire.”

A shouting contest between the marching women and several bystanders began as the figure in the window was grabbed by other larger silhouettes and lifted from view. They reappeared moments later in the doorway. It was almost comical. Three men between them carried a nymph of a woman, and still she had an arm free with which she whacked her assailants with a cane.

“Get the police,” one of the men shouted.

They made the mistake of setting her down. With a hard rap on one man’s head and another on a second man’s knee, the tiny woman freed herself and ran back into the saloon.

“Get out of here, you crazy woman!” someone shouted from within.

She reappeared moments later in the doorway,with a lighted lamp above her head.

“The righteous will prevail,” she proclaimed.“Evil will burn eternal.”

“She isn’t really going to do it, is she?” I said out loud to no one in particular. Several worried faces nodded in reply.

There was a collective hush in the instant before the woman smashed the lamp to the floor and disappeared in a plume of smoke. As men streamed into the saloon to contain the rising flames, two women, dressed entirely in sky blue, emerged from inside. They looked appalling. Brown and yellow splotches covered their dresses. One woman’s sleeve had been rent off at the shoulder; the other’s hem dragged behind her. Each carried a hatchet in one hand and an arm of the tiny window-smashing arsonist in the other, dragging her from the burning building and across the street. A third woman in blue raced from the saloon and joined them.

Is that the woman I met this afternoon? It couldn’t be.

For several minutes, my view was obscured by the temperance supporters who gathered around the women, shaking hands and patting each other on the back. Who is this woman at the center of the chaos and destruction? What kind of person goes around vandalizing saloons at night? I pressed into the crowd for a better look.

She wasn’t what I expected. Guarded on all sides by her associates in blue, she loomed large for her petite frame, wearing a black dress and black turban hat with veil netting that had ripped in two places, and she was old, very old, with white hair and skin that was wrinkled and sun-spotted. Her high-necked collar accentuated a mark on her face, either a birthmark or smoke ashes, which extended from her right ear across her entire cheek. She gasped for breath, and her knuckles were white from clenching her cane. Her stooping shoulders gave the impression that her body was frail, but we were all witnesses to that deception. She looked up and caught me gaping at her. Her face was flushed and her eyes were piercing blue, but she seemed dazed and unable to look me in the eyes for long. She wasn’t like any old woman I’d ever met before.

“It’s the police,” someone shouted.

Whistles blew as a police wagon parted the people milling about in the street. Two of the younger women immediately lifted the old woman easily to her feet. One of them grabbed my arm briefly for support. Only then did I realize, to my horror, that the brown splotches on the women’s dresses were blood.

“We’ve got to get Mother Trevelyan to safety,” one of the women in blue said to her companions.

Mother Trevelyan?

I nearly shouted after them that there must be some mistake. I watched, aghast, as three bedraggled figures in blue escorted my new employer down the street.

About Anna Loan-Wilsey:

As a librarian and information specialist, Anna Loan-Wilsey tracks down information every day that helps to solve mysteries. She earned her B.A. at Wells College and had several poems published in their literary magazine, The Chronicle. Readers can visit her website at www.annaloanwilsey.com.

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